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Conney Conference on Jewish Arts

This year’s conference at the the University of Wisconsin, Madison will feature an art panel with Richard McBee representing the Jewish Art Salon: “It’s O.K. to be Jewish Artists: The Waxing of Jewish Artists Groups”.

In addition several events will take place with other Jewish Art Salon members.

Timeline of events by JAS members:

Judaic Metalsmithing and its Role in Jewish Art, April 19, 10:30 – 11:00 a.mBy Jim Cohen.

Understanding the Artistic Language of Crypto-Jews, April 19, 11:30 – 12:00 p.m. By Jônatas Chimen Dias DaSilva-Benayon

KEYNOTE Recovering from Rosenberg’s Blind Spot: Images and Actions in Jewish ArtApril 20, 1:00-2:00pm. By Ben Schachter

PANEL “It’s O.K. to be Jewish Artists: The Waxing of Jewish Artists Groups”, April 20, 2:30-3:30pm. By Ruth Weisberg, Richard McBee (and non JAS member David Harris).

The three panelists will address the following:

Ruth Weisberg presents “Jewish Artists Groups in LaLa Land”

Weisberg will initially discuss the resistance to forming Jewish artist’s groups in the 60s and 70s in contrast to Black or Latino groups. In another words the history and reasons for the Jewish artists’ opposition to being called ‘Jewish Artists’ even as they acknowledged more privately their Jewish identity. She will describe the change of attitude since about 2000 and the flourishing of collaboration and support for such groups in the Los Angeles Jewish community and beyond. 

Richard McBee presents “Contemporary Jewish Art: The Challenge of Content”

McBee will chart the dramatic change in the production of Jewish Art from 2004 until the present seen in the emergence of the Jewish Art Initiative (2004), Jewish Art Salon (2008), Matthew Baigell’s “Golden Age of Jewish Art” (2011), Archie Rand’s “The 613” ( 2015), Ori Soltes’ “History of Jewish Art” (2016) and the Jerusalem Biennale of 2015 & 2017.  This recent history and the role of the Jewish Art Salon will be examined, as well as the challenge of Jewish content seen through a contemporary lens.

David Harris presents “Art as a Community Practice”

Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council emerged in the mid-1990s as an effort to raise the profile of the arts in Minnesota’s Jewish community and to assist artists in securing work for themselves. In contrast to artist-driven efforts which preceded it, Rimon brought together organizational  leaders, arts lovers, as well as working artists in all disciplines. Twenty-one years later the organization is professionally managed and is nationally recognized for its innovative strategies and ability to create high-impact collaborations, funding programs, and community alliances that matter to the artists and to the community they impact.

Three Jewish Art Salon members will be participating in the conference on their own:

Understanding the Artistic Language of Crypto-Jews, by Jônatas Chimen Dias DaSilva-Benayon

From the Iberian Inquisitions of the fifteenth century to today, the group interchangeably known as Marranos, crypto-Jews, B’nei Anusim, or simply Gente da Nação has had significant representation within the Arts. By observing the depictions made by these obscure Jewish artists, their descendants, or by non-Jewish creators who featured them as subjects, one may find a common vocabulary, which arguably forms the basis of a crypto-Jewish artistic language. Jonatas Chimen, an artist, author, and descendant of crypto-Jews, sheds light on subject of crypto-Jewish art.

“Judaic Metalsmithing and its role in Jewish Art”, by James Cohen 

We will look at the place of judaic metalsmithing in the light of the question “is there jewish art”.  The talk encompasses the author’s view of jewish art and judaica, a history of the origins of judaica, early judaica in the United States and post WWII judaica.  The later is discussed through review of contemporary judaic metalsmiths in the United States and overseas.
KEYNOTE Recovering from Rosenberg’s Blind Spot: Images and Actions in Jewish Art, by Ben Schachter

Fifty years ago Harold Rosenberg attempted to define Jewish art. After
a series of rhetorical de nitions, he gave up and wrote, “…the Second Commandment was the manifesto of Jewish art.” In other words, if there is
a Jewish art, then it is aniconic and resists images. Why did the man who created a critical method based on action turn away from his own ideas and stumble back into a discussion of images? Today, artists apply a whole range of strategies and techniques to their production. One approach is not enough and looking beyond Rosenberg raises new questions. What does a criticism of Jewish art need now? Action is important, but so are ideas and images. Can different critical ideas be brought together? And what can we learn from the artists themselves?


Ruth Weisberg, artist, Professor of Fine Arts, former Dean Roski School, University of Southern California, is the Director of the USC Initiative for Israeli Arts and Humanities. Weisberg’s work is included in sixty major Museums, among them the Metropolitan, the Whitney and the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the recipient of numerous awards, most recently the Foundation for Jewish Culture’s 50th Anniversary Award, 2011, and the Southern Graphic Council International’s Printmaker Emeritus Award, 2015. Weisberg has had over 80 solo and 190 group exhibitions, including a major exhibition at the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena and a retrospective, at the Skirball Museum, Los Angeles as well as a solo exhibition at the Huntington in San Marino. “Reflections Through Time” a survey of her works on paper 1972 to 2015 was shown at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts in 2015. She is founder / member of the Jewish Artists Initiative, and a member of the Jewish Art Salon.

Richard McBee is a painter of Biblical subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. From 2000 until 2014 he wrote about the Jewish Arts for the Jewish Press and continues to exhibit paintings, lecture and curate Jewish art exhibitions.  He is a founding member of the Jewish Art Salon. His essay “Contemporary Jewish Art: The Challenge” was published in the 2014 Journal of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. His website;, exhibits over 300 of his artworks and 250 of his Jewish Art reviews. He is a Founding Member of the Jewish Art Salon.

David Harris is the Director of Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council which was founded in 1995. It attests to what happens when Jewish artists are placed at the center of the community’s life rather than at its margins. Eschewing an essentialist approach that prescribes the features of Jewish art,  Rimon incubates art work in all disciplines through low-cost, high-impact collaborations, offering avenues for creativity that invite participation by an unusually wide spectrum of ages and Jewish backgrounds.

Ben Schachter is professor of Fine Arts at Saint Vincent College. He received both MFA and MS degrees from Pratt Institute. He is an ELITalks speaker, and has addressed artist groups and attended conferences in the United States and Israel. His writing on art has appeared in several academic journals including Images: A Journal of Jewish Art and Visual Culture and, soon, in Ars Judaica. Other writing can be found in Contemporary Drawing in the 21st Century and It’s a in Line: Eruv from Talmudic to Modern Culture. His artwork has been exhibited at the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University, Yeshiva University Museum, the Jewish Museum, the Mattress Factory and currently at the Derfner Judaica Museum in Riverdale, NY. He is the Jewish Art Salon’s first blogger. His first book, published by the Pennsylvania University State Press, entitled, Image, Action and Idea in Contemporary Jewish Art, will be available at the end of 2017. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and four children.

James Cohen is a metalsmith (maker) and an Adjunct Professor of Jewelry and Metalsmithing, New Mexico Highlands University, Las Vegas, NM.  He entered the University of Wisconsin-Madison following a 25+year career as a lawyer in the military and civil service.  It was while working as an attorney in the Pentagon in the early 1990’s that Jim began taking metalsmithing classes. Upon graduating with his MFA he began a full time practice as a metalsmith.  The great majority of his work is judaica, which can be seen at  He has spoken on the Jewish military experience and his art at Craft in America, Los Angeles, CA. In support of JWB’s “Torah for the Troops” initiative Jim made and donated a breastplate and yad for a torah which is currently serving onboard an aircraft carrier. He has served as a board member of the Society of North American Goldsmiths and as president of the American Guild of Judaic Art. Jim and his wife, Seren, a geropsychologist, reside on “5 Acres of Heaven” outside of Santa Fe, NM. He is a member of the Jewish Art Salon.

Jônatas Chimen Dias DaSilva-Benayon is a Brazilian-American Symbolist artist and author. His work explores personal and collective identity amidst a complicated and ever- changing cultural landscape. The artist’s exploration of identity is often drawn from his own family’s history of forced conversion and immigration. Overall, his message of embracing one’s cultural identity and disclosing personal beliefs with pride is a recurring theme in his work. Jonatas Chimen holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies from the University of Madison- Wisconsin, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Florida International University. His work has been featured at major art galleries, art auctions, and venues such as Artexpo New York, the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum, Miami Art Week, and at the Jewish Museum of Florida. In 2015, Jonatas Chimen was awarded the title of Artist of the Year by the Anti-Defamation League for his art series titled the Journey. 


The Conney Project on Jewish Arts is directed by Professor Douglas Rosenberg and is an initiative of the Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies. The Conney Project is intended to be a far-reaching educational entity that supports and encourages new narratives of Jewish identity in all the arts, both traditional and contemporary, including literature, music, and the visual and performing arts. The mission of the Conney Project is both to raise awareness of the contributions of Jewish artists and scholars to the landscape and history of the arts in general and to encourage and support new scholarship and production in the field. In the course of the next five years, we intend to amass a vast collection of historically valuable media pertaining to the Jewish contribution in the arts, one that will be made available to scholars and students in the form of streaming media, digital archives, DVDs, and television projects.

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